The Essential Guide to Real Estate Photography: Pro Tips for Beginners

Photography 05/04/2022 8 min read

Real estate photography is a niche market. But if you enjoy it and have a talent for it, there’s no reason why you could not earn a living from it. Whether you’re already a working photographer looking to dive into a new opportunity, diversifying your portfolio or you’re brand new to the world of photography, this guide is for you. From tips and techniques to editing suggestions, get your foot in the door and make a strong impression.

How to Get Started in Real Estate Photography?

The best way to start picking up real estate photography jobs is to get to know your local real estate agents and see if they need photographers. Have business cards to hand in, as well as a portfolio to show off your skills. You will need some examples of your work, which seems a little counter-intuitive when you’re starting out, but don’t forget that you can use your own home as well as ask friends and family if they wouldn’t mind you shooting theirs. 

As with any photography business, real estate photography is not just about the time you spend taking photos. You will also need to dedicate time to dressing the properties, marketing your work, completing administrative tasks, and of course, editing your photos. The expected turn-around time on real estate images is between 24 and 48 hours; you don’t have the luxury of taking your time over edits. This is all something that needs to be factored into your fees.

When it comes to fees, you can expect to charge up to $200 for properties under 3,000 square feet. For larger properties, you can charge up to $500, depending on their size. Even when you’re starting out, charge for your services. It hurts your reputation to work for free and it diminishes the profession as a whole. You’re worth your time!

To help boost your income, it’s worth looking at real estate stock photography, too. Just be certain that you have all the necessary permissions. Also be sure to take out the relevant insurance, as you never know what might happen.

Part 1: Learn the Main Real Estate Photography Settings

You’ll need to photograph both the exterior and interior of each property, which means that you’ll need to adjust your camera settings accordingly. Try starting out with these, but they can always be varied according to the conditions.

Interior Settings:

  • ISO – it’s always advisable to keep your ISO as low as possible. If possible, stick between ISO 100 and 400. When you’re shooting with a flash, around ISO 320 is ideal.
  • Aperture – do not be tempted to shoot with too large an aperture to allow more light to reach your sensor. It will blur the background too much. You need a deep depth of field to capture all of each room. Use ƒ/8 as a starting point; you can move toward ƒ/16 if you need more depth of field.
  • Shutter speed – seeing as nothing is moving in your shots and you’ll be using a tripod, you can use a slow shutter speed to get the exposure right.
  • White balance – using a flash means that you set your white balance to your flash’s temperature. Otherwise, use auto white balance.
  • Raw or JPEG – When you shoot in Raw, it gives you much more control over the final product. With JPEG, your camera makes key decisions about your images for you. Stick to Raw so that you can deliver the best image possible.

Exterior Settings:

  • ISO – use your base ISO, which is usually ISO 100.
  • Aperture – as with the interior shots, you’ll want plenty of depth of field. Use an aperture between ƒ/8 and ƒ/11.
  • Shutter speed – as you’ll be using a tripod, you can set a slower shutter speed without the worry of blur creeping into your photos, but still, get a good exposure.
  • Focal length – you will want to use a wide-angle lens for both the interior and exterior shots of a property. Lenses with focal lengths ranging from 10-24mm are ideal. Remember that if you are using a crop sensor camera, this will have the impact of lengthening your focal length. That means a 22mm lens on a Canon with a crop sensor will be closer to 35mm.

Part 2: Top 12 Tips for Shooting Real Estate Photography

1. Prep Your Gear 

Make sure that you have all your gear prepped and ready the night before you are due to shoot. You will be shooting with wide-angle lenses, ideally 10-22mm, and it’s best to have more than one. You will need a tripod, a remote release, some off-camera flashes, lighting stands, and umbrellas for diffusion. Having some sandbags to weigh down your lighting stands, to prevent them from falling and damaging your clients’ property, is advisable.

2. Walkthrough & Declutter

always take a walk through the property before you start taking photos. You will notice curtains that need to be drawn, items that need to be moved or rearranged, and angles that you think will or won’t work. It gives you an opportunity to suggest things that can be temporarily stored in a cupboard or moved beneath a bed, too. 

3. Have a Notebook & Pencil Handy

this is good practice for all types of photography, really. In this instance, you might want to note down what needs moving to where, and how to replace it. Or areas or items to which you want to draw focus as well as mirrors that need to be accommodated. But they work for remembering settings or particular angles that did or didn’t work.

4. Lights On or Off?

Some people will say put the house lights on, others say turn them off. It’s up to you. But do remember that you will need to make sure that you can effectively white balance the different light temperatures across the scene or correct them in post-processing. If you’re photographing the exterior of a house around sunset, do turn on all the lights: it makes it look warm and inviting.

5. Use Flash

Lifting the shadows using flash really does make a difference to your images. Avoid on-camera flash and if you can, purchase some umbrellas and light stands so that you can diffuse light across a room. You can angle them upwards toward the ceiling and avoid issues such as vignetting, which is definitely not desirable for real estate photography.

We recommend starting off with using the flash unit on your camera which will also help you move from one space to another faster! In time, you will see the need to use a flashgun that features a flash head you can move in many angles.

6. Have a Shot List

Make sure that you get all the shots that you need with a shot list. Always take more rather than fewer photos, and be sure to capture special features or points of interest. This is a basic list as a starting point:

  • Living room – 2 shots minimum
  • Kitchen – 2 shots minimum
  • Dining room – 2 shots minimum
  • Bedrooms – 2 shots each, minimum
  • Bathrooms – 1 shot each
  • Outdoor space – 2 or 3 shots at the back and at least 2 shots of the front of the house
  • Other features: 1 shot each – Basement or laundry room, tiled hallway 

7. Shoot at Eye Level 

You want to shoot rooms as people are going to see them, so try to shoot at eye level and make sure that you do not tilt the camera up or down. This helps to make sure buyers know exactly what they will see with their own eyes when they go to see the house. It will actually take some time for you to get the right angles and perspective, as there is no universal way to measure every home.

8. Avoid Distortion

By keeping the camera level and not tilting it up or down, you will help to avoid distortion and slanting verticals. It is also important to note as a beginner to be very careful with the lines in your compositions – keep them straight and avoid bending. If you do find that you’ve managed to shoot converging walls or the lines are off, you can correct these in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Editing Tip: We recommend you use the Free Transform tool in Photoshop to easily align the distorted lines. Basically, drag the corner of your image the opposite way the lines are leaning towards.

9. Outdoor Lighting

shooting the outside of houses around sundown, with all the lights on, looks fantastic. But if that isn’t possible, then aim to capture the house lit by the sun coming from over your shoulder. Remember: the exterior shot is the one that potential purchasers will see first so it has to be eye-catching.

10. Composition 

You want the eye to flow through the photos of each room, taking in its shape and size and getting a feel for it. Try not to have anything blocking the initial sweep and experiment with angles to get the best feel for the room. Shots from different positions are always good for purchasers, too. Be sure to keep the verticals straight, but remember if a floor is more interesting than a ceiling, try to get more of that into the frame. A rough guide to camera heights for different rooms would be:

  • Kitchen: 15-20” higher than the countertops
  • Bedrooms: 15-20” higher than the beds
  • Living spaces: between 36 and 48” high.

11. Don’t Forget Editing! 

Always edit your images to get the best out of them and get a professional result. Punch up the colors and contrast; be sure to adjust the white balance. Make sure that the verticals are upright. Especially if you took your photos without a tripod or testing out new compositions, you will need to perform cropping. Also, consider altering your saturation and hue settings if you want to achieve a more natural result.

12. Maintain a Portfolio

Your portfolio is what will secure your work, so be sure to constantly maintain it, updating it with your best and most recent work. Start off with picking your 2 or 3 best shots and place them aside for your portfolio. As you keep your portfolio fresh and updated, make sure to highlight your own growth as a real estate photographer and show any prospective clients that you are up for the challenge.

Remember that real estate photography is about selling a property. You are always looking to show off a home to the best of its advantages. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to photographing houses as everyone is different and your clients are going to have different aspects where they want you to focus, but with a solid foundation of what’s needed and how to get the best images, you’ll be on your way.